Tuesday, April 17, 2007

JLA/Batman Syndrome

Hyper-Competency in Team Setting Disorder, or "JLA/Batman Syndrome", is a disease of writing in which an under-powered character, in order to be useful in a team setting with much more powerful allies, is written as much more capable than he is in his own titles. Symptoms include: heightened intelligence, strength and speed, the inability to make or appreciate jokes; a lack of fear; obsessive devotion to "The Mission"; prone to bouts of anger and frustration with his teammates for having neither the training nor commitment he has.

Named for Grant Morrison's handling of Batman in JLA (where a character that occasionally has trouble fighting more than four street punks at the same time could run headlong into four Superman-level Martians and beat them handily, off-panel), this malady has the paradoxical result of taking the most physically human characters and rendering them the most emotionally inhuman.

While Batman is the most famous sufferer of this disease, his sidekick Robin suffers from it that much worse. Batman is always somewhat distant, calculating, and scary, but Robin is much more cheerful and emotional, prone to crack jokes after a fight or freak out a bit when encountering the fantastic.

In fact, in his own title, Robin freaks out A LOT! Seeing a demon baring down on him, Robin gets scared. Losing a lead, he might doubt himself. Captured by the Joker, Robin might begin to panic. Not that his fear cripples him, he still saves the day, but it gives him a relatable moment. In his own title, Robin is allowed to be Tim Drake, teenager, high schooler, awkward dater, recent orphan, and all-around human being.

But put Robin on a team with a kid who runs at the speed of light or an Amazonian powerhouse, and JLA/Batman Syndrome kicks in. To prove that he has a right to stand with these young gods, these teen titans, Robin has to be written as more than human, a Nietzschean √úbermensch, who does not let human concerns get in the way of his goal.

It would be neat if this was intentional on Robin's part, if Tim Drake was purposefully putting on an act to hide his insecurities and fears, but I've seen little evidence of that. Only once in Young Justice did I recognize the Tim Drake I knew from his own series. Forced to play baseball to stop a fleet of aliens from invading a planet based on 1930s Brooklyn, Robin just breaks down in the locker room, questioning not only his place in this cosmic and bizarre setting, but also his very sanity. But he realizes he has to suck it up and go back out there, because his team depends on him. That was something I could latch onto, something I could feel for.

But too often it is not an act at all, but the terrible writing disease tearing Robin in two. But there is a cure! Writers on team books just have to remember he doesn't have to be written as Batman-Lite. He can, in fact, be written as Robin, the Boy Wonder, the kid detective, the laughing daredevil, the little ninja, the human protagonist in a crazy world. These are all different, interesting, and, dare I say, FUN ways to approach the character, and they are all already present in his own monthly title. So please, let him be human again, and working together, we can make a better world.

Operators are standing by.


Jeremy Rizza said...

Wow. Terrific post! I'm glad I'm not the only one who's bugged by that. It's also the main reason I hated Robin in the Titans cartoon. He was so incredibly perfectly super-cool that not only could I not relate to him, I actively hated the little fucker. He could withstand (or escape) inhuman amounts of punishment with nary a hair in his elaborately mussed coif out of place. Feh.

Anonymous said...

But Robin has been acting like an uber-God in his own title.

So techniclly, there is cohesion between the books.